Book #09

Perfume: the Story of a Murderer by Patrick Süskind

In the slums of eighteenth-century France, the infant Jean-Baptiste Grenouille is born with one sublime gift—an absolute sense of smell. As a boy, he lives to decipher the odors of Paris, and apprentices himself to a prominent perfumer who teaches him the ancient art of mixing precious oils and herbs. But Grenouille's genius is such that he is not satisfied to stop there, and he becomes obsessed with capturing the smells of objects such as brass doorknobs and fresh-cut wood. Then one day he catches a hint of a scent that will drive him on an ever-more-terrifying quest to create the "ultimate perfume"—the scent of a beautiful young virgin.

I remember finding this book absolutely captivating back in 2010. Reading over my last review, I find myself agreeing with past-me in some parts, whilst in others I have no idea where I got some of my ideas.

The most notable thing about this novel is the obvious and overwhelming research into the art of perfumy, scents themselves, and how a smell can evoke emotion. This is incredibly interesting to begin with, yet I found the lists of flora, the descriptions of scent extraction, and the explanations of the limitless tools available to do so, incredibly tiresome after a while.

Süskind’s writing is  rich in general, thoroughly descriptive and full of detail. The novel isn’t as much about murder as it is about social isolation, about how we treat those we barely notice, and what this treatment can drive those people into. He also looks at the notion of smell as a social indicator, a benchmark not only of a person’s rank, but of their capacity for good and evil, or their whims and motivations.

Although this dragged along quite mercilessly, it was entirely worth it for the final quarter of the novel. Süskind shows us the folly of obsession and the consequences of aspiring too highly in a horrific and almost incomprehensible finale. It was masterful, it was heinous, and it was utterly perfect.